Thursday, November 10, 2011
THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX
"The little men with the slide rules and computers are going to inherit the earth."
This movie gets right into the action, without taking time to even introduce its characters, as a plane develops problems and then crash lands in the desert with veteran pilot Frank Towns (James Stewart) at the helm. However, there's plenty of time to meet the survivors during the rather slow early sections of the film: Towns second-in-command, Lew Moran (Richard Attenborough); by-the-book but admirable Captain Harris (Peter Finch); crazy Cobb (Ernest Borgnine); haughty engineer Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger); and others. During the strangely uninvolving first half of the film you keep hoping that Ursula Andress or Raquel Welch will come parachuting into the scene and all of the men can fight over her, and at least something will happen, but it's not that kind of movie. Instead the film develops an interesting plot line wherein Dorfmann insists that by using the remaining parts of the plane he can build another craft that will take the men out of the Sahara before they die of thirst or starvation. Towns thinks that the plane he'll build won't ever get off the ground. Dorfmann has a rather startling and darkly amusing secret, however. There's a tense sequence involving some Arabs who may or may not be friendly, but the climax when the "phoenix" takes off is surprisingly brief. And there's a lot more that you could quibble about. Stewart seems a bit miscast and out of his element -- although certainly not bad -- as the somewhat defeatist Captain Towns, but Attenborough, Finch, and Kruger are superb, and Dan Duryea, George Kennedy, Ronald Fraser and the others aren't exactly slouches. Like Lifeboat, The White Tower and many other movies Phoenix deals with the cliche of ruthless German efficiency, an aspect that was kind of tiresome, being done to death, by the sixties.
Verdict: Eventually builds in intensity and interest; some wonderful performances don't hurt. ***.